Visual Arts

The Arts > Visual > Roses Are Cadmium Red, Violets Are Phthalo Blue

Roses Are Cadmium Red, Violets Are Phthalo Blue

by Katie Kerns Geer

Marissa Vogl, Be Closer to Me, 48 x 48

Is there a muse any more universal than the flower? Perhaps most famous for painting the subject is Georgia O’Keefe. And though her intended symbolism gets debated, one thing seems true: O’Keefe demanded the viewer see the flower — really see it.

The following visual artists are florally influenced, portraying blooms for a number of different reasons; their work may evoke joy or luxury or is simply meant to be beautiful. Here, we arrange a dozen different ways to see flowers.


Marissa Vogl, Raspberry Jelly, 36 x 36

Marissa Vogl is neither an abstract painter nor one who paints representationally; she is both, and she says that bouncing back and forth between the two approaches keeps her sane and satisfied. There is consistency in Vogl’s work, however: A sense of overwhelming joy percolates from the rich colors and energetic brushstrokes.

This perhaps is most true of her abstract interpretations of flowers. “A floral arrangement, no matter how exquisite or humble, is always going to ignite pure joy within me,” says Vogl, who is a co-owner of Meyer Vogl Gallery. “My art is simply about painting happy energy intuitively.”

Vogl’s abstract paintings suggest their floral nature through sweeping shapes, unrestrained marks, and other botanic hints. Her spring-like color palette feels just right, and it’s clear she has a relationship with color that’s almost clairvoyant. “Combining a subject I adore with a technique that evokes joy, creates a tangible canvas of happiness. Simple, pure joy. What more could I want to paint?”


Justin Giunta, Electric Midnight, oil on canvas, 52 x 38″

Justin Giunta paints flowers. He also paints other subjects, makes jewelry, and draws — and the artist has worked in fashion and interior and industrial design. Giunta crisscrosses back and forth between a variety of artistic universes and often interweaves those universes together. But he keeps returning to painting flowers.

“I have continually explored the motif of floral painting, returning to this theme as a vehicle to parallel ideals held by contemporary society,” Giunta says. “In my work, I honor traditional techniques while introducing modern materials and scale to bring new energy to this familiar genre.”

Like his path as an artist, the New York City-based artist’s floral paintings are often unpredictable. Most feel ornate, and according to Anne Siegfried, owner of The George Gallery where he is represented, his work plays on themes of luxury. He works with oils, but also sometimes acrylics and sometimes pen and ink—some pieces even include jewelry or sparkly adornments. Siegfried adds, “The present collection of drawings and paintings explore the distinct themes of spirituality and commodity as constructed by the past and reinvented with a modern take on materials and techniques forging new aesthetic values.”


Jocelyn Châteavert, Double Bloom

Jocelyn Chateauvert, Why not Paris?

Jocelyn Châteauvert calls herself the paper wrangler. “I always think that handmade paper must be Mother Nature’s prototyping material,” she says. Châteauvert is a paper artist, and she creates jewelry, lighting, sculpture, and installations from paper that she makes by hand.

“I build worlds from the most common and least known material: paper,” she says. “The ritual of papermaking is ancient, scientific, and rhythmic. I merge this science with the unknown by air-drying my pieces. The paper shrinks, twists, and cockles, forming three-dimensional shapes more subtle than I could design.” The organic nature of Châteauvert’s process lends itself to floral forms. “My paper forms revert to their botanical origins; I make plants from plants. Oversized and immersive or diminutive and whimsical, my pieces dilate the natural world and bring it inside.”

Châteauvert’s work can be found in the collections of the South Carolina State Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. In 2016, she won the People’s Choice Award at ArtFields, and she was awarded Best in Show at the 2017 North Charleston Arts Fest.


Kerry Simmons, Forrest

Kerry Simmons, Hollyhocks

“There’s so much ugliness in the world,” says Kerry Simmons. “If I can do something that contributes beauty, I think I’ve done my job.”

That’s why, for a recent body of work exhibited at Robert Lange Studios, the artist’s subjects included two of the most beautiful things she could think of—flowers and her friends. Inspired by the decorative elements of Gustav Klimt’s paintings, Simmons created her own take on the Austrian painter’s work, placing women against a floral backdrop.

For the series, Simmons painted women that she knew, often wearing floral prints. “I think all my models are beautiful women on the inside, as well as on the outside,” she says. “Of course, they’re attractive women, but there’s an inner beauty that shines through. That’s why I choose people I know, too, because I feel like I have a better chance of capturing that person.”

The artist adds, “I’m interested in people who have a look that’s not of a certain time and place and that is relatable, whether you know the person or not.”


Karen Vournakis

Karen Vournakis

“I make portraits of flowers rather than people.” That’s according to Charleston-based artist Karen Vournakis. “Each photograph is a portrait of an individual flower. I want to capture its beauty and uniqueness on film. The image is a portrait of the individual flower from my perspective.”

Vournakis works in the medium of hand-tinted photography — her portraits of flowers and other subjects are part photograph, part painting. “I print the image on gelatin silver photographic paper,” she explains. Next, she applies color pigment to the print in the studio, adding her own emotional interpretation of the scene.

Previously having taught photography at Syracuse University, Colgate University, and Dartmouth College, Vournakis moved to Charleston in 1995 and opened the Karen Vournakis Studio/Gallery, which she ran for eight years. Today, she works out of a studio at Redux Contemporary Art Center.


John Thompson


John Thompson considers himself a landscape artist. Look at his work, however, and you may get the sense that he’s capturing moments in time—portraits of marsh grass and lily pads and flower petals rustling in the wind. “With the fast pace of our contemporary lives, these fleeting moments provide a sense of calm and hope for what might be ahead,” he says.

Thompson is a printmaker who uses various printing techniques, including silkscreens on rice paper. Before the artist creates his work, he goes out into nature and studies it directly, bringing impressions of the environment back with him to the studio. “Rather than attempting to document an image, I use the beauty of blossoms and the tangle of wonderful growth in marshes and ponds to inspire an interpretation of fleeting moments,” he says. “Moments that so often leave us with just a glimpse of glory we cannot reclaim but may recall in our own way.”

Having spent many years in the Lowcountry, Thompson now lives in Boston, where he runs his studio and print shop and teaches printmaking at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. He is represented by Atrium Art Gallery, and his work is part of the permanent collection of Husk restaurants.


Anna Kasabian, Sunset Tide Pool, 20 x 7.5 x 4.5

Anna Kasabian, Rev D’Or, 14 x 12 x 8

When Anna Kasabian started working with porcelain in 2010, she didn’t set out to create floral pieces. They flowed from her head and her heart to her hands instinctively.

“It is what came naturally to me as I worked each piece of clay,” she says. “My first hand-formed bowls, tiny as they were, one inch in diameter, recalled flowers.” Today, Kasabian still creates pieces that call up the forms and motions of flowers, as well as sea plants and ocean waves – though mostly on a larger scale. Where does that impulse come from? “I live in a place where the ocean and a beautiful landscape woven with gardens and a rocky shore have become part of me,” she says. “And my love of both the sea and lush gardens now come through my hands and into my clay.”

Kasabian often names her pieces after antique roses – Salet, Leda, Arethusa – which she says have characteristics that she feels align spiritually with her work. The artist, who started her career in ceramics by creating whimsical illustrations on pre-formed bisques, has found her ideal medium in porcelain. “I learned its peculiarities by becoming intimate with it and now understand, respect, and cater to its uniqueness.” Her work can be found at Ella Walton Richardson Fine Art.


Brandon Donahue, Basketball Bloom (Glow in the Dark), 48 x 48 x 10

Brandon Donahue, Basketball Bloom (Y.M.C.A.), 48 x 48 x 5

Brandon Donahue believes that all objects, even the most mundane, have a spirit and a history. If that’s true, then the artist is helping save discarded objects from landfill hell and giving them new life as art through customization and assemblage.

Take, for example, basketballs. For Donahue’s series Basketball Blooms, he slices through the leather and rubber and arranges the repurposed balls into wall hangings that resemble flowers.

“Each of the basketballs that I use to make the blooms carries a history,” Donahue says. “The number of games they’ve seen, the puddles, the pavement, the hands, and the lives through which they’ve passed. The sacred geometry of the mandala, a symbolic picture of the universe that is associated with belonging and harmony, inspires both the meaning and the design of the Basketball Blooms.”

In addition to creating Basketball Blooms and other large-scale installations, Nashville-based Donahue is also a professor at Tennessee State University, his alma mater. Here in Charleston, he is represented by Trager Contemporary.


Glory Day Loflin

Glory Day Loflin

Glory Day Loflin calls herself an interdisciplinary artist, working out ideas in multiple materials. She makes paintings and collages, wood sculptures and ceramics—oh, and she’s a singer/songwriter, too. Her visual art fixates on the ceramic vessel and how that relates back to humanness. “My paintings and sculptures currently draw from an interest in the figurative language of ceramics,” Loflin says. “I think of the lip of the bowl, the foot of the pot, and the neck of the vase and consider the human vessel.”

Contained within many of those vessels are flowers (and plants and fruit and other things that grow and parish). “The inclusion of florals in my paintings is in some ways just an echo of a long history of still life paintings and in other ways a note on the life that the human vessel inevitably holds for a time before dissipating,” she explains.

But the flowers have a personal context, too. “I began drawing florals when I was a kid, as my mother was an avid gardener. She had the most beautiful selection of purple irises, red, pink, and white azalea bushes, and a whole yard full of lamb’s ear,” Loflin says. “It wasn’t until after college when I returned from New York to my mother’s garden in South Carolina that I made the connection between florals in my work and my relationship to my mom. In 2017, my mother had a stroke that stole her ability to garden as she once did. Nowadays I think of our namesakes, my mother Sue, the Black-eyed Susan, and I, the Morning Glory, and our life together in the painting’s surface.”

Loflin currently lives in Greenville SC. If you make your way to Greenville’s Artisphere in August, for which she won the Mayor’s Choice Award last year, be sure to stop by Art & Light Gallery to view her work.


Joe Walters

Joe Walters

Joe Walters’ sculptures bring the outside in. “My recent work using flora and fauna revolves around integrating the two to create dynamic compositions capturing the totality of a specific natural environment,” says the Charleston-based artist.

Walters’ typical sculpture materials include steel rod and sheet, aluminum mesh, polymer clay, modeling compounds, polystyrene foam, glues, sand, and paint. They are lightweight enough to mount on the wall, immersing viewers into a nature-like experience. View the wildflowers, delicate branches, fallen leaves, and bird nests, and you feel like you could be stepping around them as you walk through the woods.

Pictured is an example of the artist’s most recent sculptural work at the B-Liner, a new restaurant at the Kiawah Island Club. Walters will also be showing a grid of 12 x 12-inch panels at ArtFields this spring.


Dixie Durgan

Dixie Dugan

Dixie Dugan was a watercolorist for 30 years. Then, in 1999, the artist was in a car accident that left her confined to a hospital bed for a month. “I started to tear,” Dugan remembers. “I cut National Geographic Magazines into small pieces and glued them on cardboard.”

When she finally returned home from the hospital, Dugan’s daughter gifted her with origami papers. She began creating collages with hand-made origami and rice papers, and the artist – now 92 – hasn’t stopped since.

Dugan’s first collage was a large magnolia, and she says that flowers are still one of her favorite subjects. “Flowers work great with these types of paper,” she says. “Flowers work well because the papers are so different and have powerful colors. There are so many different types of origami papers, hundreds of patterns and colors. My studio is full of every color, pattern, and size.”

Dugan’s collage-work can be found at Studio 151 Fine Arts. “Each flower that I do is a challenge and with the different paper, no two are alike,” she says.


Teresa Roche, Day Lily Farm Day with Sawyer, 48 x 36

Teresa Roche’s floral paintings and collages are influenced by more than just a fascination with flowers. It’s more personal than that; each of her pieces has a vivid and vibrant memory attached to it.

Take, for example, Flowers for Lynn and Red, which was a part of Roche’s recent solo exhibition at Miller Gallery. “Our sweet neighbor, Lynn, and her dog, Red, always stop by when they see us out in our yard,” she recalls. “Last summer, the [grand]children and I planted a garden. Lynn and Red would come over to visit, chat, and play with the children while we watered the seeds and tended the garden. We so enjoyed the time we spent with them! The second the garden started to bloom, Sadie suggested we make a bouquet for Lynn and Red and surprise them with it. The girls found a pretty vase, cut the flowers, arranged them together and ran all the way to their house to deliver it to them.”

No matter the subject, Roche’s work triggers reminiscence. “In excavating memories among the minutiae of life, I’m seeking to unearth something old, worn, perhaps forgotten. I add layers of paint, sometimes dry, sometimes not, and gradually scrape away.” In addition to being represented by Miller Gallery, Roche is the owner of Art & Light Gallery in Greenville, SC.

Stay Connected t0 the Arts:


Posted in Visual on March 11, 2020 (Issue 45: The Festival Issue) by Matt Mill.

Comments (0)

No comments yet

The comments are closed.